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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

It Was The Worst Of Mickey Rooney....(2)

I'll close it out with this one, then we will be on to other things.
It was 1987.
The Pantages Theater in Hollywood.
I had read that Mickey Rooney would be starring in a production of "A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To the Forum".
Sounded pretty good to me.
My favorite, probably the best musical-comedy ever written, starring one of the most gifted actor-comedians who ever lived.
I felt no need to share this with anyone, so I flew solo.
It was a Wednesday night.
Got a great seat.
Eighth row, orchestra.
The lights went down.
Over the public address system, we heard "Welcome to the Forum".
I'd seen many productions of this show.
I knew it very well.
I'd never seen it start that way.
I can't really tell you why, but it seemed a little off-putting.
I let it slide.
They played the Overture, got done, and out came Mickey.
He went into the opening number, which is traditionally broken up by his narration of what we are about to see.
Right off the bat, from his first piece of narration, I began to hear lines that I had never heard before.
This continued.
Throughout the show.
He seemed to give himself permission to give the show a complete rewrite.
And proceeded to improve none of it.
He turned it into dreck.
"Forum" is a very difficult show to pull off well.
It's all in the hands of the lead actor.
The character, Pseudolus, is a slave in ancient Rome.
What drives the entire action of the play is Pseudolus's desire to be free.
A very intricate plot evolves from that, and in any good production of it, you have to see the wheels turning in his head.  Constantly.
It's all about his thought process.
The more you see the wheels turning, the better the show is.
With Mickey, you NEVER saw the wheels turning.
Because he didn't give a crap about wheels..
He copped an attitude, that he shared with the audience, called "Do you believe this shit I'm trapped in?"
He had no respect for the material.
For the greatest, most intelligent musical-comedy ever written.
He had no respect for it.
Which is probably why he chose to rewrite most of it.
He added a ton of new jokes that weren't in the script.
And they were all, without exception, groaners.
I know this, because I kept hearing the audience, and me, groaning.
As did Mickey.
At one point, he went down to the edge of the stage, right at the footlights, and said "Hey folks, don't blame me.  I didn't write this stuff!"
At that moment, I wanted to stand up from my seat, and shout back at him "Yes you did!!"
I restrained myself.
To this day, I don't know how, but I did.
I understand that Larry Gelbart, the co-book writer on "Forum", tried to get an injunction, or at least to sue.  He just wound up discouraging people to see it.
Mickey let that show die a totally pointless death.
Apparently, there was no one around him who could tell him "No".
To this day, it was more torture than I've ever chosen to sit though in an evening of theatre.
And I sat through "The Addams Family".

To sum up, with all the great work he did, that evening almost totally put him in the minus column for me.
Almost, but not quite.
He did all that great work.
For so long.
All he needed was someone to keep him in line.
So over all, he was better than he was not.
But that "Forum" experience made it awfully close.     


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  1. Two Mickey Rooney stories:

    - One member of the FORUM cast was Robert Nichols, a favorite character actor of long standing.
    The following is a direct quote:
    "I went out for a year with Mickey Rooney in A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM, for my sins (He's hell to work with!)."

    - Mickey came to Chicago to take over the lead in LEND ME A TENOR, a British farce.
    This was an ongoing production; the producers were running in name actors to keep it going.
    Rooney replaced Jamie Farr, staying for about a month.
    After that time, John Astin replaced Rooney.
    The resident cast members spoke of Farr and Astin in terms reserved for beloved Popes.
    Rooney was spoken of as the Ayatollah.
    The stories of Mick's on-stage conduct were much as you've described his FORUM behavior above. Local columnists and radio guys dined out on them for long after Rooney left town.

    In the years since, everything I've read of Rooney seems to indicate that his dementia was not limited to his advanced age.

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About Me

Hi. I am, according to my Wikipedia entry,(which I did not create) a noted television writer, playwright, screenwriter, and occasional actor. You can Google me or go to the IMDB to get my credits, and you can come here to get my opinions on things, which I'll try to express eloquently. Hopefully I'll succeed. You can also e-mail me at Perhaps my biggest claim to fame is being responsible, for about six months in 1975, while Head Writer for the "Happy Days" TV series, for Americans saying to each other "Sit on it."